I see the pool’s checkered color tile, feel the ice cold water and smell the chlorine. Etched in my memory, I’m recalling private swimming lessons, that my parents forced me to take, at a YMCA.
Jumping in the deep end of the pool and learning to tread water were the worst. Feeling every muscle ache and the fear of not touching the bottom were awful. One time, I accidentally swallowed water while treading. I panicked. Even at 6 years old, I had some pride and hated saying the dreaded word HELP. When I started choking and couldn’t get to the edge of the pool, I finally caved and yelled, “Help me!”
My personality, as a first born, made it hard for me to ask for help. I have many of the stereotypical traits of being first in line – independent, reliable, responsible, conscientious, diligent, desire to be the best, etc. (Notice I’m not mentioning negative traits – probably a first born thing.)
When my world was turned upside down by my 14 year old daughter’s cancer diagnosis, my reaction was right in line with my first born temperament. I jumped into proactive, assertive and strategic mode. Momma bear also kicked in and I became my daughter’s protective advocate.
My deteriortating gallbladder and a painful case of the hives were the cold water splashed on my face that woke me up. I couldn’t do it all myself. And my husband and son couldn’t do it all themselves. Our family needed help.
Thinking about difficult situations that we all face, I’m pretty confident that many of us will ask for help when in physical danger. If we were to fall off a boat, most of us would quickly yell out “HELP” and accept a life preserver. Why is it so hard to yell out “HELP” when we are in emotional danger or difficult seasons of life?
There are probably lots of reasons it’s hard to signal an SOS, other than being a first born, that I won’t analyze in this post. I will share that it’s been quite a journey for me to accept help from others. The types of assistance that I’ve learned to receive include:
- emotional: shoulders to cry on, offers by friend to walk alongside me in murky waters, counseling, support groups, unconditional acceptance and love from medical staff, online community of new friends/parents facing loss, amazing resources such as the book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg
- physical: financial resources to pay medical and funeral expenses for my daughter, meals, gift cards and chores such as laundry and store runs from friends
- spiritual: grace, latitude, forgiveness, prayers, prayers and more prayers from family, friends, church community and new friends
In the beginning of Leah’s illness, I wanted to shine as superwoman: the one confidently battling, serving and giving. The serious progression of my daughter’s cancer demanded that I accept, ask for and receive help so that my husband, son and I wouldn’t drown because of our exhaustion and devastating loss.
I hope that by receiving so much active compassion that I’ve grown in humility, understanding, perseverance, patience and sensitivity.
As time passes and my losses and tragedy are farther away, it continues to be hard to ask for assistance some days. Not wanting to burden or drain others continues to be something on my mind.
An observation for friends and family of someone coming out of a crisis or tragedy: Our instinct is to immediately help someone in the early stages of a tragedy. As months and years pass, look for opportunities to come alongside your friend who may look ok from a distance, but is actually struggling below the surface. We can only do this when we stay in contact and are in his or her life in some way. Even if you lose touch, most of us will gladly appreciate a hand extended with love, care and friendship at any time.
An observation for those of us struggling after the initial crisis: Sometimes we hide our pain, needs, disappointments and challenges all too well. We need to realize other people may not see that we are not calmly floating through life, but thrashing below the surface. We need to yell out one word – HELP.